July 8, 2008


Recent reading about our food supply prompted Maggie and me to increase the amount of fish in our diets. Specifically, we're adding salmon.

Since the switch was health-related, we wanted to make sure that we're getting the omega-3 fatty acids that are said to be more heart-healthy. It turns out that if you're not picky regarding what sort of salmon you buy, you might not be getting as much of that beneficial fat as you think. Farmed salmon is fed cheaper corn, wheat gluten and other sources of protein which results in higher omega-6 fatty acids and lower omega-3s. And then there's the possibility of PCBs in your salmon. From Discover Magazine:

Using the cancer-risk assessment methods of the Environmental Protection Agency, he calculates that men can safely eat wild salmon as often as eight times a month but farmed salmon only once or twice a month. Carpenter says salmon from farms in Scotland and the Faeroe Islands are so contaminated they should not be eaten more than three times a year.

What's a consumer to do? Eat wild salmon, of course! But, to quote Julie on Twitter: "Wow, wild salmon really IS pricey!" Indeed. I felt lucky to get it for $10/lb this week at Stop & Shop. Ordinarily, it is $15/lb there. Yes, that's cheaper than eating out, but not by much.

Even if you cough up the cash for wild-caught salmon, there's the worry you might not be getting actual wild caught salmon after all. B.O.B. pointed out this weekend that the term "Atlantic Salmon" is used for farmed salmon which seems counterintuitive, but the labels are pretty clear where we shop. They say "farm raised" on them, and you can always ask the fishmonger.

But then, what if you can't trust the fishmonger or market? In 2005, an investigation in New York found that a lot of the so-called wild salmon was actually farm-raised. Farm-raised salmon is given pigments to deepen the red, simulating wild salmon's color. These agents can be measured, and so the deception is uncovered.

But the consumer can't tell just by looking. And the fish market can't even tell if their supplier is pulling the scales over their eyes. So now, what the heck is a consumer to do?

My suggestion: ban artificial coloring of farmed salmon. Now, once the fish is filleted, both markets and consumers would easily be able to see the difference (farmed salmon would be gray, more like the color of tuna). It seems to me it would be easier for regulators to ensure compliance at the farms (just test the occasional fish at each farm) than it would be to go around to various fish markets and constantly do chemical tests.

An argument against this is that it might make farmed salmon less desirable, and be unfair to fish farmers. Tuna isn't red, and it sells fine, I assume. Also, isn't the consumer's ability to get what they're paying for more important than allowing farms to simulate wild fish? Finally, if there are strong motivations not to eat salmon more than a couple of times a month (PCBs) perhaps a business model based on fooling the consumer is not the best thing for the food marketplace. As free-market folks like to say, let the market decide (once the deception is removed, of course).

BTW, if you've got money to burn, why not buy your dog or cat some Wild Salmon Treats? $10 for 3 ounces (to be fair, it's dried) and what sort of a guarantee do you get that it actually is wild? And will your pet care?

Posted by James at July 8, 2008 3:24 PM
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Some varieties of tuna are redder than salmon. I.e. the tuna that Shaw's makes sushi with is red.

I noticed that some of the salmon packages at Stop & Shop noted something about red coloring being added. Oh, yum! But at least they're letting us know. I'm in favor of all kinds of labeling, though I'm not as happy with labeling that potentially confuses consumers. (e.g. one of the cereal companies now puts its favorite nutrition stats on the front of the box, in hopes that you won't check out the rest of the stats on the government-regulated nutrition panel on the side.)

"Wild salmon" in the cat treats may just mean that it partied a lot. All kinds of hijinx on the salmon farm.

Posted by: Julie at July 8, 2008 4:20 PM

Julie - I love the wild-party salmon idea!

Posted by: Kitten Herder at July 8, 2008 9:48 PM

I made Thai salmon salad tonight (well, I made it last night, let it get to know itself, and ate it tonight) from "wild caught" salmon that went for $6/pound. I don't know why — whether it was some special deal, or whether it'll be that price at my local A&P again next week — but it was très savoureux.

Posted by: Barry Leiba at July 8, 2008 9:53 PM

That's amazing, Barry. Cheaper than I've seen some farm raised salmon here. Clearly there is a season for wild salmon, and I think this must be it.

But I am still concerned about whether we can trust the promise that it's not farmed salmon. I had to laugh at the excuse one place gave, that "all wild salmon from Canada is farmed." Saywhatnow?

Posted by: James at July 9, 2008 9:18 AM

We had some (I think about 5 lbs) freshly caught, flash-frozen pacific sockeye salmon shipped to us a couple of months ago - need to check what we paid per pound, but I don't remember the markup being overly significant. Best freakin' salmon we ever had. But this was before $130/bbl oil, so I dunno' what it's up to now.

Another good way I try to get Omega-3/6 fats is through oil. See if you can find a brand called "Udo's Choice" at your local health food store or online. It's an unprocessed blend and makes great salad dressings.

Posted by: Bull at July 9, 2008 3:14 PM

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